The international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is deeply troubled by the terrible murder of Deborah Yakubu, a Christian student who was stoned and then burned at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, northern Nigeria.
“ACN decries this most recent act of violence. The levels of extremism and violence reached in Nigeria over the last few years are absolutely appalling. Hardly a week goes by without news of kidnappings and dozens of deaths, but this barbaric act leaves us speechless”, says executive president Thomas Heine-Geldern.
Deborah Yakubo is said to have sent a blasphemous WhatsApp message about Mohammed during Ramadan, when the college was closed for holidays. When she returned to class, a group of students was waiting and attacked her, stoning her and then setting fire to her body. The Shehu Shagari Education College of Sokoto has since been closed by order of the state government of Sokoto.
Nigeria: “There is a serious religious liberty crisis.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Deborah’s family and with the Christian community of Sokoto at this time. We also call on all political and religious leaders in Nigeria to firmly and openly condemn this case of religious extremism,” says Heine-Geldern.
“The religious extremism we have become so familiar with under Boko Haram, and that has caused so many innocent victims, seems to have spread and polarized an increasingly large part of society. There is a serious religious liberty crisis, and it is not only caused by terrorists. The Nigerian government must reflect deeply on where this violence is dragging the country, and how it can defend the rights of all its citizens,” Heine-Geldern adds.
Since 1999, twelve states in northern Nigeria have adopted Shariah-based legal codes which operate in parallel with secular courts. Many of these Shariah laws include heavy penalties for blasphemy, including death. However, at least Shariah guarantees a form of due process, without resorting to lynching and summary execution, as happened with this most recent case in Sokoto, which is not unprecedented.
According to ACN’s most recent Religious Freedom Report, after 20 years of Shariah law the situation in northern Nigeria has become worse, with ethnicity and religion becoming shortcuts to power, resources and privilege. The report states that Shariah law has deepened the divisions in the country.
The Catholic bishop of Sokoto, Mgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, who is a promoter of inter-religious dialogue in his diocese, spared no words in condemning the criminal act against Deborah Yakubo. The bishop called on the state government of Sokoto and on the relevant authorities to investigate the incident to determine what caused it and to bring those responsible to justice. Bishop Kukah recalled that Christians have lived in peace with their Muslim neighbours in Sokoto for years, and asked those who were directly affected, and the Christian community of Sokoto, to keep calm and wait for justice to follow its course.